We collectors of knitting needle gauges received the biggest present of our collecting lives in 2006, when Sheila Williams published the first research on British gauges in her The History of Knitting Pin Gauges. This little info- and photo-packed volume is a great foundation for further research; and both Sheila and I have published later articles in the TCI Bulletin on fresh discoveries of British gauges. Indeed, hitherto undocumented gauges appear every year or so, calling for another article by now.
But this research focuses on North American gauges up to about the 1960’s, for the development of this tool in Canada and the US proceeded quite separately from Britain. Part 1 of this article covers US gauges through the 1930’s.
First of all, gauges appeared in the US much later than in Britain. From the 1840’s on, British authoresses such as Mmes Lambert, Hope, Mee, and Gaugain advertised gauges of their own design and/or claimed descent from the Standard British Wire Gauge. Up to the late 1880’s, it seems that US books on knitting either didn’t bother with the refinement of gauging the size of needles, or else they referenced English gauges.
Finally, around the 1900’s, some imported metal gauges appeared in the US. Hardware stores sold metal knitting needles and advertised these in their mail order catalogues. The early gauge in Figure 1 was made and sold in Germany, but it was also imported into the US and offered for sale in a Boston hardware store around the 1890s. It is marked “STRIKNADELN: LEHRE,” which translates as “knitting needle gauge.” The numbering against the holes does not match British gauge numbers.